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The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to his White Mother by James McBride

1996, Riverhead Books

This book is a classic I hadn't heard of until Yvonne lent it to me. I loved it.


James McBride and his many siblings were brought up mainly by their mother Ruth. After James' father died at a tragically young age, Ruth remarried and continued having children. James' stepfather was kind but didn't live full-time with the family. When James was young, he asked his Mom why she looked different than her kids (she was White; her two husbands and fathers to her children were Black). She didn't think it was important or worth discussing. The same went for her past which she never discussed. She never mentioned her own parents and family, who seemed to not exist.


This secrecy weighed on McBride and as an adult, he set about interviewing his mother and researching her mysterious past, never imagining the whole process would take 14 years, nor that the resulting book would be regarded as a significant work. “If I had known so many people were going to read that book, I would've written a better book,” (1), he said.


I couldn't disagree more; the book is superb. Once it starts it jazzes along right to the end and in fact, McBride is also a musician. Here's a passage where I heard the music; McBride is talking about his stepfather's car.


He (Daddy) called it "a cheese box. I'll never buy another Chevy again," he fumed as the car, loaded with kids, sat in traffic, its engine steaming and sputtering. It seemed to break down every five minutes. When it did start, a key wasn't necessary. You simply turned the ignition switch with your hand and it fired, and one evening a guy did just that as Daddy was standing by the kitchen window washing dishes. He watched in silence as the guy drove off in a cloud of blue smoke. "This must be my lucky day," he said. (160)


Music is personal so you may not be hearing it, but if you read the book other passages will surely sing for you! And by the way, McBride, while dealing with serious and even tragic subject matter, is not only musical, but funny.


In this quote you can see he's also inspirational and spiritual:


" 'You have to choose between what the world expects of you and what you want for yourself" my sister Jack told me several times. "Put yourself in the God's hands and you can't go wrong.' I knew Jack was right..." (161)








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